Odysseus writes a letter home
(for my students at ACS)
Penelope, this letter may never reach you:
the post hereabouts is altogether unreliable.
We are constantly beset by appalling weather –
storm after storm has tossed our ships
from one island to another. You would not believe
the troubles we have had to bear
month in, month out, and for so many years.
Penelope: I write to tell you
that I am coming home.
I am tired of adventures,
of monsters, of the gods who treat us so shamefully.
Athena, it seems, has taken a holiday –
for so long now she has been quite invisible:
I almost think she has never existed.
And I need to talk to you.
If you should hear rumours about Calypso,
do not – do not – believe them: by and by
I shall tell you the truth of it,
but in the meantime trust me
when I say that I am coming home to you,
that I think only of you.
I am sure that by now news of how the war
turned out has reached even Ithaca:
you can believe that I am on my way.
I imagine you each morning as you drive down
to the harbour and examine the horizon
for evidence of my ship’s approach. And one day
it will be my oarsmen striking along your sea-lane.
I worry that one day I may wake up
unable to remember your face.
But I have not forgotten. Whisper
each night to your reflection: Odysseus,
your husband, is sailing home.’
Say it like a prayer each time
our bed receives you, and when you rise.
Whisper each day in Telemachus’ ear:
‘Odysseus, your father, is sailing home.’
Make sure he practises the skills his father knows,
and let him run each day until he tires.
Teach him arithmetic: for calculation
is one half of cunning, and cunning
is already half of wisdom. The rest is courage.
Greet Eurycleia for me, and old Emaeus.
I hope, if this letter finds you, it finds you well.
PS. The news could not be worse.
This morning we descended into Hell,
and Tiresias warns of trouble with the gods.
We’ll be together in the end,
I know: maybe not tomorrow. Be patient.